art ~ spirit ~ transformation
e*lix*ir

e*lix*ir   #16
Twin Birthdays 2023
Voices of Iran
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial

The Art of a Loving Correspondence

The Writing Life

Trust in Poetry by Tami Haaland

Features

The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, A collaborative work by poet Sandra Lynn Hutchison, composer Margaret Henderson, and painter Inger Gregory
Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, by Margaret Henderson

Poetry

Heather Anne Hutchison
Victor Kulkosky
Linette Kuy

Essays

The Art of Losing by Victor Kulkosky
Yearning for Water: The Story of a Traveling Quilt by Bradford Miller

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

Fire and Paradise by James Andrews

Letters

Dreaming of a Better Iran: A Letter to Our Fellow Citizens by Eight Bahá’í Students

Translations

“I Want to Walk With You” translated by Bashir Sayyah

Comics

Ruhi & Riaz by Eira

Voices of Iran

Keeping the Eternal Garden by Maryam Afzal and Saam Mozafari
Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission by Shahrzad Mohebbi
Nothing but the Sanctity of the Desert by Nazgol Adyani
Five Days by Bahar Rohani

Interviews

Art and the Creative Process: An Interview with Hooper C. Dunbar by Nancy Lee Harper
An Interview with Erfan Hosseini, Santur Player by Mehrsa Mastoori

Arts

Paintings by Hooper C. Dunbar

State of the Art

Books for Children by Allison Grover Khoury

Looking Back on Books

Forty-eight Fragments by Imelda Maguire
The Divine Melody: Song of the Mystic Dove by Lorraine Hétu Manifold
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright
Soul of the Maine House by Bradford Miller

Films

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in France by Perry Productions


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Ann Sheppard

Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission

by SHAHRZAD MOHEBBI

The house stands at the end of a long narrow street named Golestan, in one of the older neighborhoods of the city of Mashhad. I knock on the door and a middle-aged woman answers. She tells me her name is Saba Mansouri, and she welcomes me in to observe the children’s class she is teaching. In Iran, a teacher can get arrested for offering a Bahá’í children’s class, but Mrs. Mansouri persists. She believes that teaching children to become world citizens is the key to Iran’s future.

Mrs. Mansouri doesn’t seem to be well. Her right cheek is swollen. She tells me she has a toothache and has had to take a painkiller, but she is going ahead with the class anyway. “I have already cancelled the class for two weeks in a row because of the Bahá’í feast and the snow,” she explains, “so I don’t want to cancel it again.” Mrs. Mansouri waits by the door and two of the five children who are in the class appear. She waits for a few more minutes, then decides to go ahead.

The class begins with the children reciting the prayers they have learned by heart. Once the prayers are finished, Mrs. Mansouri asks the children to introduce themselves. The girl’s name is Negin and she is in the first grade. The boy, Parsa, is in the second grade. This is the first year both children have attended Mrs. Mansouri’s class. Because several children are absent, Mrs. Mansouri will not teach a new prayer or read a story to introduce a new virtue. “The focus of this class,” she says, “is on quality. I want the children to incorporate these teachings into their everyday lives, rather than overload them with information.”

Each child has a binder in which they keep their paintings. They also have notebooks in which they write the prayers they are to memorize. Mrs. Mansouri takes out some of the visual aids she uses to make sure the children remember the story behind each one of them. One of the posters shows children of different ethnicities laughing together. Its purpose is to emphasize unity, the oneness of humanity regardless of skin color.

Mrs. Mansouri asks Parsa if he remembers the story behind the poster. He does. He repeats the story told by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells in a book Mrs. Mansouri has read in the children’s class: A Black Rose and a Black Sweet. In the tale, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá compares a black child to a black rose and also to a chocolate! Mrs. Mansouri asks Negin what we can learn from the story. Negin answers that since we love chocolates, we should love black children as well. Mrs. Mansouri smiles, and I do too.

Soon it is time for cookies and orange juice. During the break, Mrs. Mansouri explains her motivation for offering the children’s classes and why she believes they are so important: “I have been doing this for quite a long time. I love working with children and I believe that my efforts can bring positive changes in their lives.” She pauses for a moment then continues, “Our children must be the embodiment of all the ideals of the Bahá’í Faith, so we need to educate them and train them to be examples of what we believe in.”

Mrs. Mansouri explains that connecting children to their spirituality helps them to become better people in their lives and so enable them to have a positive impact on other people. “In the long run,” she says, “what happens in these children’s classes will have an impact on the society as whole, since these children are going to contribute to that society in the future.” She explains that, in the school, the children are encouraged to compete with their friends and try their best to get good marks, but to think nothing about spirituality. “We already have many doctors and engineers,” she adds, “what we lack is people who use their knowledge to help humanity and serve society.”

When it comes time for the class to end, Mrs. Mansouri tells the children they will play a game. “The class always ends with a game,” she tells me. This time the children do a skit about honesty. Parsa plays a little boy and Negin plays his mother. In the skit, a little boy accidentally breaks his mother’s favorite vase. When the mother finds out that her vase is broken, she asks her son if he is responsible. The son tells the truth and apologizes. The mother accepts her son’s apology and appreciates his honesty. After the skit, the class comes to an end and the children get ready to leave.

Parsa’s father has to drive several hours, from Torbat Jam to Mashhad, to attend the class, Mrs. Mansouri tells me. But the class is so important to his parents that his father even brought him to class the day after Parsa’s mother had given birth to another child. It is Parsa’s mother who comes to pick him up today, and I ask her why she goes to so much trouble to bring her son here: “It is very important to me that my son learns about the Bahá’í teachings; it is vital that he learns about virtues when he is still very young.” She says that she wants him to understand Bahá’í beliefs deeply. She says that she thinks it is essential that children learn virtues when they are still very young. “I want Parsa to be a true Bahá’í,” she says, adding that she does not want her son to grow up with hatred in his heart, and she wants him to learn about the importance of gender equality and to learn to respect people regardless of their appearance. “I want him to serve the society and live a good life,” she adds.

What are the effects of this class on his life? Parsa’s mother says he has learned to treat everyone with kindness, and that now he stands up for children who are being bullied. “These children are the next generation,” she says, “and the peace and the prosperity of society depend on them.” Parsa’s mother and Mrs. Mansouri agree: the children’s class helps the children who attend to develop spiritually and to discover the meaning of life. They learn that life is not all about going to school and getting good grades, but about being generous, helping other people, and living with deep purpose.